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RIGHTS-US: UN Hears Complaints of Justice System's Racism

By Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA, Aug 14 (IPS) - United States-based human rights organisations have requested United Nations (UN) intervention in confronting the racial discrimination they say guides the rulings issued by the country's criminal justice system.
They also recommend that the UN send a special rapporteur mission to the United States and include the issue on the agenda of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance - to be held next year in South Africa.

In a document called ''A Call to Action'' the group of US institutions and personalities asks the international forum to exhort the US government to honour the obligations contracted as a signatory of international human rights treaties.

The United States, to comply with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, of which it is a party, ''must remove its reservations and submit timely and accurate reports specifically noting the issue of racial discrimination and race bias in the criminal justice system,'' say the petitioners.

The nations that signed the international convention must present periodic reports on their compliance with the accord to an oversight body, the Geneva-based UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

The petition, also signed by US academics, artists and cultural figures, proposes that the UN investigate complaints of racial discrimination and the race bias of their nation's criminal justice system.

Racial profiling - using race in presuming guilt without proof of criminal conduct - is wielded against people of colour in their daily lives, at international ports of entry, on the road, in schools and on the street.

The statistical evidence presented by the petitioners shows that automobile drivers from the African-American community are disproportionately detained by authorities for minor traffic infractions, allegedly because officers assume such individuals are likely to be involved in more serious crimes.

In Maryland state, 70 percent of the drivers pulled over by police on interstate highway 95 from 1995 to 1997 were black, but just 17.5 percent of all cars on that roadway are driven by people from the black community.

In Florida state's Volusia County, 70 percent of those stopped by police on the interstate highway are black or Hispanic, despite the fact that only five percent of the drivers belong to those two groups, according to the petition.

Racial differences in criminal sentencing and imprisonment have increased to the extent that, in the United States, African- American men represent 50 percent of the country's total prison population, though make up only six percent of the total US population.

A study by the New York criminal justice services division about the sentences handed down in that state from 1990 to 1992 concluded that, given the same crime, black suspects were found guilty more often than whites.

When it comes to the death penalty, there is overwhelming evidence that its application in the United States is tainted by race and class prejudice, according to the document presented before the UN human rights organisations.

Of the inmates waiting on death row in the nation's prisons, 42 percent are African-American, while 80 percent involve crimes in which the victim was white.

In the United States, women of colour - subject to racial discrimination as well as gender discrimination - are especially vulnerable in the economic, social, cultural, civil and political spheres and face deep inequalities in the criminal justice system.

The US organisations and personalities presented the ''call to action'' before two UN organisations, the CERD and the Sub- Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, during sessions underway this month in Geneva.

The US groups were represented by Julian Bond, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, Wade Henderson, director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and Mary Frances Berry, president of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

Bond pointed out that, in 1947, US human rights groups had appealed to the UN to denounce the racism permeating vast sectors of US society.

Many of the demands presented 53 years ago have yet to be resolved, though great strides have been made in several areas since then, he said.

The US criminal justice system is sharply marked by the unequal treatment of minorities at each stage of the legal process, maintain the human rights petitioners. (END/IPS/tra-so/pc/ff/ld/00)



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